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Published: Monday, 4/30/2001

Flextime perks are extended to unmarried


WASHINGTON - Two years ago, Myles Romero, a customer service manager for Ford Motor Co., wanted to better balance his work and personal life.

Looking enviously at the flexible schedules arranged by many parents at Ford, Mr. Romero, 29, went to his employer with a radical request. Instead of designing a work schedule to accommodate the demands of children, Mr. Romero - who is single and does not have children - wanted to re-arrange his work life to make more time to teach aerobics, renovate old houses, and pursue an MBA.

After all, why should his personal pursuits, he suggested to his managers, be treated differently than the demands of people who happen to have children? Afraid to lose him, his supervisor asked him to propose a plan.

Today, the 40-hour, four-day-a-week work arrangement Mr. Romero proposed is a standard flextime option at Ford. And the company has stopped asking employees to provide reasons for flextime requests. Taking pottery classes is as valid a reason as caring for a child.

“They say ask and ye shall receive,” Mr. Romero said. “And I asked.”

So have countless others. Three decades after mothers with small children began entering the work force in large numbers, struggling to win workplace benefits and the flexibility to help them balance the demands of job and home, Mr. Romero and other childless workers have begun pressing companies for similar breaks.

And many employers are providing them. They're offering workers more benefits that appeal to people at all stages of life: pet-sitting services, massages, classes on caring for aging parents, even time off for triathlon training. More and more allow employees to design their own benefits packages, picking and choosing among many perks, according to human resources specialists.

“The trend we're seeing is a definite targeting of work-life benefits” for each worker, said Richard Federico of Segal Co., a human resources consulting company in New York. “Those benefits aren't likely to disappear,” he said, even as the economy slows.

The child-free's list of resentments is long: tax benefits for parents, health insurance coverage of infertility treatments, family-discount packages at resorts, co-workers who skip out of the office early to coach soccer games, even those signs reserving prime parking spots for expectant mothers or parents with young children.

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